Faculty feature: Get to know Ellen Van Oosten and how she helped found the Coaching Research Lab

Ellen Van Oosten teaching in the Dively building

The story of how the Coaching Research Lab (CRL) at the Weatherhead School of Management was started is one that Ellen Van Oosten says is fun to tell again and again.

In 2014, Van Oosten, director of the CRL and associate professor of organizational behavior, along with Angela Passarelli (MGT ’14), Weatherhead PhD alumna, CRL research fellow and associate professor at the College of Charleston, attended the Institute of Coaching Conference. Both Van Oosten and Passarelli’s research won awards in a research poster competition. In announcing the awards, the organizers introduced Van Oosten and Passarelli from “the coaching research laboratory with Richard Boyatzis at Case Western Reserve University.” At the time the CRL did not exist.

“Angela and I looked at each other and smiled,” Van Oosten recalled. “But, then I thought, ‘I think it’s a sign that we need to launch a coaching lab because seven hundred people just heard that it exists.’” 

After the conference, Van Oosten met with colleagues Richard Boyatzis and Melvin Smith, both professors of organizational behavior, and together they created a framework for the CRL. In 2014, the Coaching Research Lab at Case Western Reserve was founded by the trio with a mission to advance and support research on the effectiveness and process of coaching. 

“The CRL is a joint initiative between scholars and leading organizations to develop a more comprehensive understanding of coaching for sustained change through empirical research,” said Van Oosten. “It’s led by Organizational Behavior faculty and includes doctoral students along with close colleagues at other institutions. We bring researchers, practitioners and coaches together to understand the factors involved in creating a culture of development in organizations with a particular focus on examining how dyadic helping relationships manifest sustained, desired change at the individual, team and organization level.” 

The research fellows behind the CRL include: Van Oosten; Boyatzis; Smith; Passarelli; Kylie Rochford, assistant professor at the University of Utah; Scott Taylor, associate professor at Babson College; and Tony Jack, associate professor of organizational behavior.

In honor of National Coaches Day on Oct. 6—a day to celebrate highly qualified educators in highly specialized fields—we are spotlighting Van Oosten, director of the CRL.

Her most recent publication, Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth, which she co-authored with Boyatzis and Smith in 2019, was named “Coaching Book of the Year for 2020” by Henley Business School, was listed on Teambuilding.com’s “11 Best Coaching Books to Read for Work in 2022” and Life Coach Path’s “The 3 Best Life Coaching Books in 2022.”

Get to know more about Van Oosten and learn how the CRL has changed over the years:

As the director of the CRL, what are you most proud of? 
One of the things I'm really proud of is that the Coaching Research Lab is recognized as a leading global hub for coaching research, coaching education and coaching practice. There are solo researchers and small groups in different locations around the world, but here at CWRU, we have strength in numbers. What's unique is the researchers are also the educators of coach training programs and executive coaches as well. We don’t just talk about theories and models. We collect data, present findings at conferences and write the journal articles and books. It's gratifying to be recognized as a place where people come to learn how to be a great coach, anchored in research.

I'm proud to collaborate with inspiring colleagues and doctoral students to bring rigor and relevance to our research through studies of coaching relationships, processes, effectiveness and outcomes. 

How has the CRL changed over the last eight years since its founding?
The biggest change has been in our growth. We've grown in our number of member organizations, the scope of our research studies and in the various events that we host. 

One event held every spring and fall is called a Day of Discovery. Day of Discovery meetings are gatherings of researchers, practitioners and coaches over a 24-hour period where we collectively learn about emerging research while simultaneously considering practical implications. These events provide invaluable learning opportunities to connect and collaborate with our organizational members and Weatherhead executive coaches.

What has your research focused on?
My research is broadly focused on leader development, change and learning at the intersection of the individual and organization levels. That's the realm that has always interested me and where I really enjoy contributing. In the past, that included an examination of how emotional intelligence and coaching relationships impact leader effectiveness. Angela Passarelli and I also led the inaugural CRL study examining the influence of different communication modalities such as phone, video and face-to-face, on the coaching relationship and outcomes. 

What are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm working with colleagues here and at two other institutions on a study looking at team coaching as a pedagogical intervention to help MBA students navigate differences and negotiate conflict skillfully. Team coaching is being increasingly implemented in organizations and is a new frontier for research, which is exciting.

I’m also working on papers and symposia proposals to submit to the annual Academy of Management and working with colleagues on journal publications. It's an ongoing journey and we're making some good headway! 

What has been your greatest challenge and greatest reward so far with teaching?
One of the greatest challenges happened at the beginning of COVID-19 when we abruptly had to shift to remote instruction. My approach to teaching is experiential and discussion based, so there's not a ton of lecture. Transitioning to online was challenging because I was trying to learn the technology, while redesigning the curriculum in an uncertain environment. 

In the summer of 2020, we had a large incoming professional MBA cohort. My learning curve was steep with the combination of 50-plus students and the unknowns of striving to create an engaging and productive learning environment in a completely new way. It turned out to be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience because the students were just so amazing to work with. Our MBA students at Weatherhead are just top notch and I’m grateful for the rich learning partnership that summer.
What are some of your favorite things about Cleveland?
As a Cleveland native, I think Cleveland has so much to offer and often gets a bad rap. What I appreciate most is the range of professional sports, cultural resources and natural resources that are so affordable and accessible. 

My favorite things to do are to catch a Cleveland Guardians game, see a show at the beautiful theaters in Playhouse Square, watch the sunset off Lake Erie, take a walk in the Metroparks or enjoy amazing food with my family and friends. If you’re bored here, you must be asleep or really picky! 

Most of all though, I appreciate the generous and warm heartedness of the people in this region. Clevelanders represent midwestern spirit at its best. I am proud to be from this region and to raise my family here. 

What do you love most about Case Western Reserve University?
Considering that I stepped foot on the CWRU campus 30 years ago, earned two degrees and never left, it’s a long list! Most of all, I love being a part of a culture of lifelong learning and to engage in meaningful work with incredibly smart, talented and good colleagues. 

One of my favorite Weatherhead taglines is “what you learn here in a single day can change everything.” That sums it up so well! I am proud to collaborate with peers and students who strive to make a positive difference in the lives of people, organizations and the world every day.